Say what you will about Ostalgie, but East Germany did do away with the criminalisation of homosexual acts in 1968, one year earlier than its Western counterpart. The rosy memories stop there, however.
At this month’s EXBlicks, Out in East Berlin, Jochen Hick and Andreas Strohfeldt explore the lives of homosexuals behind the Wall – from older to younger to cruising areas to separated lovers to encounters with malicious “Romeos”: disguised Stasi informants attempting to get a handle on homosexual activism. In the beginning, protagonists share their childhood memories; while at first they seem to have a lot in common with other gays and lesbians, it becomes clear that the political climate presented a different set of problems to those experiencing Cold War Berlin.
In cooperation with realeyz.tv, join Exberliner and Jochen Hick on Tuesday, December 16, 8:30pm at Lichtblick Kino to celebrate the film’s release on DVD – followed, as always, by complimentary wine.
Where did you get the idea?
While I was doing the TV station TIMM [Germany’s gay male cable station].Back then there had not been one single film about gays and lesbians in East Germany, and so I had Andreas start on some research. The interesting thing is that (the film) was (made) some years after the fall of the Wall, but was still close enough for people to remember. We did it 22 or 23 years later mainly so that people had time to reflect before it became storytelling again.
How did you find your protagonists?
In the end, it wasn’t too difficult. The most difficult part was finding older protagonists. And it was difficult to find people who were also willing to talk a little bit about their experiences with the Stasi. Andreas Fuchs for example: even I knew him before – but would he reveal anything? He did.
So these people really wanted to talk. Even those that had Stasi connections?
It wasn’t much of a problem for [Fuchs] to talk about it and of course I also don’t think that he’s reducible to this story, but of course so few people in the East are still talking about it, even if they had active experiences. This is where we are in Germany. So I found it very courageous that he was talking about it, although I know at the same time that other people would say: “What’s courageous about it?” He even had this situation at the Berlinale when the film was screened and there was another guy who said that he usually wouldn’t stand on the same stage with someone who was working for the… You know. So I think it’s still a major problem.
Can you tell us about the integration of East and West, specifically about LGBT people, after die Wende?
It’s hard to say since I am not from the East, of course, but all those people who wanted to explore, they did. And some people immediately left Germany because not all East Berliners and East Germans wanted just to go to West Berlin. Some went directly to San Francisco, some went straight to Amsterdam, or, you know… And some people had these previous connections: there were some East Berliners who already had special permissions, like Klaus Laabs, to go for a few days or on a daily basis to West Berlin. So they already knew. Other people didn’t. For example Andreas Fuchs, he never had the chance. And there were other people who had already these partnerships, for example a lot of women, especially lesbians, had contacts with women from Amsterdam or from Cologne, and of course these were the first places where they went.
Let’s get to sex: before and after die Wende. Did East Germans have any sexual integration to do?
I mean, what you really can say is that the people who were promiscuous in East Germany were really very promiscuous and as promiscuous as they were in the West. There was really no difference.
STIs and such risks were obviously there.
There were a lot of the usual STIs going around because people were as promiscuous and, as I understand it, pretty unsafe at that time. But because all things were curable, at least in their eyes…
…and immediately after that. There was the work of the AIDS-Hilfe and all this in eastern Germany but you know in the end I always think that the information is pretty obvious. Even if they saw West German television they would have gotten the information. It’s always a question of risk, and people thinking “I’ll be lucky.” But it would be wrong to say the GDR wasn’t aware that HIV and AIDS were happening. But it wasn’t the same situation like in West Germany, they really thought, and a lot of intelligent people thought, that the Wall will save us from HIV.
Would you say that the GDR was specifically anti-gay?
The funny thing is that the GDR was so harsh on gays and lesbians, and lost so many gays and lesbians – and along with that, sympathy for the State because they always made it so difficult for them to meet. And they sent the Stasi everywhere because they were stupid enough to think that gays were dangerous. They weren’t. They mainly wanted to meet other gays and lesbians…
EXBlicks: Out in East Berlin, Tue, Dec 16, 20:30 | Lichtblick Kino, Kastanienallee 77, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Senefelderplatz